Before pubs, there were Gin Palaces

World Best Bar

Apr 06, 2020


Before pubs, there were Gin Palaces
Let us set the scene: London, 1835. The Industrial Revolution was at its peak, Queen Victoria reigned over the kingdom, and Charles Dickens was hard at work on Oliver Twist.

Among society’s most popular things at the time was the Gin Palace. In some ways, the Gin Palace is the ancestor of the pub as we know it today. 

Wood paneling and chandeliers

Gin Palaces went all out in terms of decoration. They were temples of light thanks to the use of electricity, which was considered a luxury at the time. Mirrors, engraved window panes, and chandeliers added to the glamorous effect. The interiors were also filled with stunning wood paneling and mosaics worthy of Downton Abbey. People came here to socialize, of course, but also to drink gin – as the name implies. The fanciful spaces suited the spirit’s precious aromas. But the love affair between Brits and gin hasn’t always been so glamorous.

Gin versus beer

Indeed, by the 1720s, gin was causing serious harm to a country in crisis. People back then were drinking pure gin by the pint, ignoring the first rule of consuming in moderation. Gin was also sold in pharmacies as a cure for all sorts of ills – hard to imagine nowadays. Oh, and just about anyone with a homemade still could make it. At a time when water wasn’t potable, people considered gin and beer to be perfectly good alternatives for quenching one’s thirst. Over time, the popularity of gin was beginning to eat away at society. In 1736, 1743, and 1751, the government stepped in and passed the Gin Acts, which required a license to sell gin, and imposed a tax on said sales. This caused something of an uproar in the streets, but little by little, gin consumption decreased in favor of beer.

Feeling nostalgic?

Gin made a comeback in the Victorian era, shedding its seedy past reputation in favor of the clean, well-lit palaces described earlier. Only vestiges remain of Thompson and Fearon’s in Holborn or Weller’s on Old Street, which were the very first gin palaces in existence. But they set the standard for all the next gin palaces and later Victorian pubs that were built, of which some very well-preserved examples still operate today. Take a tour of such iconic London venues as the Princess Louise or the Punch Tavern or simply make yourself a modern twist on a gin & tonic with cucumber and black pepper at home while listening to some classic Britpop. And since we prefer Victorian elegance to the debauchery of the Georgian period, we advise consuming in moderation.

Cheers, mate!

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